Prioritising Mental Health as Human Right in Africa

As the world observes 2023 Mental Health Day, recognising mental health as a human right cannot be overstated, as Africa faces numerous challenges, including poverty, conflict, and disease.

Development Diaries reports that these challenges can take a toll on the mental health of individuals and communities, as access to mental health services is often limited, with significant disparities between urban and rural areas.

Defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a state of well-being in which an individual realises their abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to their community, mental health is an essential aspect of human dignity.

It is also enshrined in international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

These documents recognise the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

However, Africa is faced with different challenges to mental health rights. These challenges range from stigma and discrimination to a lack of resources, humanitarian crisis and cultural beliefs.

Many individuals with mental health conditions face discrimination, exclusion, and even violence. Eradicating stigma and promoting understanding is crucial to ensuring that people seek help without fear of reprisal.

Also, many African countries face resource constraints that limit their ability to provide adequate mental health services. There is a shortage of trained mental health professionals, insufficient funding for mental health programmes, and limited access to essential medications.

Africa has experienced numerous conflicts and humanitarian crises that result in trauma and psychological distress. Refugees and internally displaced persons are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues.

Another challenge is that traditional beliefs about the causes of mental illness can sometimes lead to harmful practices, such as exorcisms or isolation, instead of evidence-based treatments.

African governments must prioritise mental health in their national policies and allocate sufficient resources to mental health services. Also, legislation should be enacted to protect the rights of individuals with mental health conditions.

While public education campaigns should be launched to combat stigma and promote mental health awareness, mental health care should be integrated into primary healthcare systems to ensure that individuals can access services easily.

Photo source: UNICEF


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